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Anyone and everyone not cooperating { July 9 2003 }

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9/11 Panel Concerned About Delay
Commission's Leaders Say Agencies Slow to Produce Information

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2003; Page A11

Leaders of the panel examining the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States complained yesterday that with the clock ticking on the enormous investigative task before them, the Bush administration has been slow and unresponsive in producing information.

Six months into their work, time is "slipping by," said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the panel and former Republican governor of New Jersey. The level of administration cooperation in the next few weeks, he said, "will determine whether we will be able to do our job within the time allotted."

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, with a bipartisan membership and a broad mandate to examine the circumstances that led to the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, must, by statute, finish its work next May. Its report, which may spotlight political and intelligence failings of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, would be completed in the midst of the 2004 election season.

While Kean and his vice chairman, former Democratic congressman Lee H. Hamilton, said they did not believe the Bush administration is deliberately dragging its feet, both said they now need "strong support" from the White House to obtain documents and access to witnesses they need.

The panel's task is "monumental," Kean said, calling it the "most wide-ranging outside investigation of American national security in the history of the United States."

The commission is seeking millions of documents from 16 federal agencies, and seeking to interview numerous witnesses. The vast majority of documents have not yet been provided. In addition, commission members are balking at the insistence by intelligence agencies that their representatives be present during interviews of officials, a demand that Kean said amounted to "intimidation" that would hamper the search for information.

Kean and Hamilton said they are satisfied with the production of extremely sensitive national security materials from the White House itself. And, they said, they are pleased to have recently received reports of interrogations of al Qaeda captives.

But they said the Pentagon and the Justice Department, and to a lesser extent the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security, have failed to provide materials in a timely manner. They said, however, that in recent days the Justice Department has taken steps to speed responses to their requests, replacing one lawyer reviewing the materials with five.

The "energy level" at agencies responding to the commission has been "sharply increased in recent weeks," Hamilton told reporters.

"We've got a deadline," Kean added. "If there is pressure, good," he said.

Commission members complained in particular that they have been prevented from gaining access to numerous witnesses who figure in the pending conspiracy trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the attacks.

The Pentagon came in for the harshest criticism for failing to respond to requests for information relating to NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which safeguards the nation's airspace. Defense Department officials did not return telephone calls for comment yesterday.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said yesterday that "we have cooperated with the commission's investigation and have already produced thousands of pages of requested documents that are relevant to the inquiry. Much of the information is highly classified national security information and requires an added amount of care in handling."

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan added that "the president has directed the agencies to cooperate and to cooperate quickly because this is important work."

Several relatives of those who died in the attacks expressed frustration after the commission's news conference yesterday, which detailed the panel's progress to date. "I don't know why anyone and everyone is not cooperating," said Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died at the World Trade Center.

Breitweiser said she expects the families will lobby Congress for more time for the commission to do a thorough report, rather than accept a flawed and incomplete one. "If we need to go into an election cycle, we'll go into an election cycle," she said.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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